- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Ditch the computer

Nobody likes pointing fingers when addressing the numerous intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 attacks, but it’s difficult not to revisit the eight-year reign of FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, who resigned four months before al Qaeda attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

“The first thing [Mr. Freeh] did was tell the bureau to get rid of the computer on his desk,” Ronald Kessler, author of “The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI,” tells Inside the Beltway.

“And he did not use e-mail. He had no concept for the need of computers.”

In fact, Mr. Kessler says, FBI computers during the Clinton administration were so outdated no one in their right mind “would even take them as a donation to a church.”

“If an agent wanted to send a photo, he or she would have to send the photo to his home computer or a police station because the bureau could not even handle the transmission of a photo,” the Washington-based author and intelligence authority tells this column.

In contrast to Mr. Freeh’s reported aversion to modern technology, one of the first initiatives undertaken by current FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was to equip the bureau with new computers.

“Robert Mueller took over one week before 9/11, and during that week he started the process of ordering thousands of new Dell computers,” says Mr. Kessler. “He also started a program to expand the FBI’s analysis capability, which was the other major problem the bureau faced.”

Prior to September 11, the author notes, “a large portion of the bureau’s records were paper-based.”

Supporting Mr. Kessler’s disclosures was testimony this week by Attorney General John Ashcroft before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Mr. Ashcroft slammed the Clinton administration for undermining the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts and technology advances.

Offering evidence, Mr. Ashcroft pointed out that the FBI’s technology budget for fiscal 2001 — the final year of the Clinton administration — “was actually $36 million less than the last Bush budget eight years before.”

Too risky

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was among a congressional delegation scheduled to visit Iraq this week, but the trip was axed by the Pentagon, which cited a need to maintain critical troops and resources in combat operations.

Mrs. Snowe, Maine Republican, and the others were slated to have face-to-face meetings with U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic officials to assess the situation in Iraq. The delegation also intended to meet with military members from their respective U.S. states.

Given this past week’s bloody uprising by Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters against U.S. troops, including successful attacks on military convoys and aircraft and the kidnappings of foreigners, one military source says it’s too risky for lawmakers to be touring the war-ravaged country.

Pat Boone surfaces

We got a chuckle out of this recent New York Times correction — published a whopping seven years after the fact:

“An article in Arts & Leisure on May 4, 1997, about Pat Boone’s venture into heavy-metal music omitted attribution for a critic who said Mr. Boone’s album ‘Pat Boone in a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy’ was ‘an affront to everybody who would consider heavy metal a serious musical form.’ The comment, from Andy Secher, editor of Hit Parader magazine, appeared in the March 31, 1997, issue of Insight magazine. A request for acknowledgment went astray at The Times and was renewed last week by the writer of the Insight article, John Berlau.”

Speaking of Pat Boone — which we don’t do often — he happens to be guest of honor at a Capitol Hill Club breakfast next Tuesday as the new honorary chairman of the 60 Plus Association, one of the fastest growing, seniors’ groups in the country with a less-government, lower-taxes approach to issues.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or j[email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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